Residents of the Pico-Roxbury area are planning to fight a proposed zoning change that one neighbor said would allow the Simon Wiesenthal Center to incorporate the equivalent of Seattle's Space Needle in its expansion plans.
But Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said any zone change would be severely limited to preserve the character of the neighborhood, which is made up largely of single-family homes.
"Theoretically they're right," he said of neighbors' concerns about the proposed change in commercial zoning that might allow a high-rise building. "But the city is not going to do that."
The center operates a Jewish high school, college and museum in a building at 9760 W. Pico Blvd. It also owns an adjacent lot, currently occupied by a plant nursery. The center tentatively plans to include a multimillion-dollar "Museum of Tolerance" at its new building on the nursery site, officials said.
Rabbi Meyer May, executive assistant to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the center, said precise plans cannot be released because they are likely to be changed.
"We're proceeding through normal channels to demonstrate that there won't be a major upheaval in terms of the community ambiance and traffic flows," he said.
But Yaroslavsky said he found the center's tactics frustrating, especially because the center wants to put the new structure's main entrance on Roxbury Drive, a residential street.
He said center officials have disregarded his recommendations to locate the entryway on Pico Boulevard, which is already heavily traveled.
May said doing so would require demolition of the existing building and would force the center and its affiliated museum, high school and college to relocate for two to three years.
This would be prohibitively expensive, he said. Under the current plans, the schools and museum could remain in place until the new structure is completed on the nursery site, he said. Then the existing building would be replaced or remodeled.
But Yaroslavsky said severe conditions would be imposed by the city if the center insists on using Roxbury Drive for its main entrance. The street will have to be modified to take increased traffic and the building will have to be set back to avoid "casting a pall over the neighborhood."
In any case, he said, the city will not allow anything to be built above the existing three-story or 45-foot height limit for that stretch of Pico Boulevard.
"There's going to have to be give and take among the museum and the neighborhood and our office," he said. "I've asked the museum people to meet with the neighborhood. They will. They'd better."
A hearing on the proposed zoning change has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at West Los Angeles City Hall, and Yaroslavsky said he will ask the hearing examiner to delay making his report until representatives of the Wiesenthal Center meet with residents.
As of Wednesday, there had been no such meeting.
"It's very disconcerting," said Steve Dahlerbruch, president of the Beverly Roxbury Homeowners Assn.
"We aren't used to having developers sneak up on us . . . what they're doing to us is what they'd do to a Nazi war criminal. They're holding back information to gain their ends."
Since the plans have not been made public, he said, "we're going to be against anything we can't see. . . . They can put a space needle up next to some residential homes, and that's not the way the game is supposed to be played."
In an interview, Yaroslavsky said he supports the center, whose activities include efforts to find ex-Nazis and the release of information about Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who helped Jews escape death during World War II only to vanish after arrest by the Soviet Red Army.
He said, however, that the center's plan to place the main entrance of its new building on Roxbury Drive would drastically lower the value of neighboring homes because of the resulting traffic and parking problems.
"We have an obligation to protect the integrity of a single-family neighborhood," he said. "If the museum can be built in a manner consistent with that objective, fine.
"But if they're not able to do that, then the neighborhood has to take precedence, because it's a precedent-setting kind of thing. It will be viewed by others along Pico Boulevard as potentially precedent-setting in their neighborhoods, too."
May, speaking for the center because Hier is overseas, said, "We don't see Zev Yaroslavsky as an opponent. We see Zev Yaroslavsky as a supporter with a preference for the project to take shape in a certain manner that will be $5 million more expensive for us."
As for the neighbors, he said, the center originally planned to hold a reception to explain its plans, but decided instead to wait until after Monday's hearing.
Time Running Out
"We're hoping the opposition will be reasonable and will appreciate what we're doing and will appreciate our efforts to minimize the amount of inconvenience and disturbance in the neighborhood," May said.
But Dahlerbruch said, "There isn't much time left."
His organization represents homeowners north of Pico. Those immediately to the south of the Wiesenthal Center previously were not affiliated with any homeowners' group, but they met this week and decided to organize to fight the proposed zone change.
Sylvia Crasnik, president of the new group, said its members had nothing against the museum's expansion plans but they were concerned that other developers would seek similar zoning changes.
As described in the official notice of Monday's hearing, the proposed C-2 zoning for the area would impose no height limit beyond a requirement that the total floor area of the main building not exceed three times the buildable area of the lot.